A society where moms thrive and flourish.

By Stella Tushabe

May 12, 2024

Stella Tushabe a new mom with her daughter Nyota

UNDP Rwanda

I recently returned to office duty after receiving my little bundle of joy, who occasionally, on uncertain days, can quickly convert into a bundle of job. Diving into taking care of a child after 41 weeks of carrying them on the inside is a lot harder than it sounds and oftentimes, it overshadows the need to take care of one’s body for proper healing and restoration. 

It is said that rock bottom sometimes has a basement, and the postpartum experience, commonly known as the fourth trimester, shares this sentiment because it could be described as a cocktail of pain, sleep deprivation, and anxiety, to mention a few.

Rwanda has worked tirelessly to reduce the rate of maternal mortality. Between 2018 and 2020 the rate declined by a whopping 7.83%, after having remained stagnant between 2017 and 2018Yet at 259 deaths per 100,000 births, it is still too high. And, despite this improvement, moms still severely suffer from post-partum illnesses and psychological conditions, with post-partum depression being one of them. 

Childbirth and post-recovery experiences are often referred to as near-death experiences, and a study in 2023 showed that postnatal depressive symptoms were found to affect one in five Rwandan women. This is an alarming statistic that could be avoided among birth mothers. 

Even though my personal journey of childbirth involved severe illness and a traumatic birth process, I surprisingly turned out to be one of the women who had a smooth transition into motherhood, thanks to the overwhelming support from my family and my employer, a stark reminder that new mothers thrive with support.

In many parts of the world, working women who become pregnant are faced with the threat of job loss, suspended earnings and increased health risks due to inadequate safeguards for their employment, yet in several instances, many households are sustained by women. 

A report by the International Labour Organization, "Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and Practice Across the World," highlights that providing maternity leave can have positive effects on female employees' health, job retention, and overall job satisfaction.

My employer, UNDP Rwanda, allowed me a month of telecommuting, prior to the baby’s birth, and encouraged me to handover my duties at least two weeks prior to the due date, so that I could concentrate on bringing life into the world. Postpartum, I was allowed six months to rest, heal, breastfeed, and bond with my newborn. This reduced the anxiety that would have come with a forced, rushed healing process, while figuring out motherhood as a first-time mom. 

My employer has also ensured that women in the season of childbirth are comfortable at the workplace, by providing an equipped women’s room to allow them rest, rejuvenation, and privacy while expressing their babies’ breastmilk.

Across Rwanda, several offices have adapted the concept of the Early Childhood Development Centers (ECDs) for children between three months to three years of age, which has allowed female workers to concentrate more on their jobs and increase their production in the long run. 

The Development Bank of Rwanda, for instance, has partnered with Happy Hearts, to establish a centre consisting of a furnished classroom, a resting room and playground. The customized center does not only act as just an EDC or a daycare center but a place where children learn life skill development, language and writing skills.

Muhawenimana, a cassava flour seller in Rwamagana market, also benefitted from an ECD that was established a few metres from her place of work, so much so that her capital has increased from Rwf 150,000 to Rwf 500,000.

Research highlights that withdrawing maternal support early in a child’s life can have a number of physiological and behavioral consequences which may contribute to a complex, changing pattern of vulnerability over the life span. 

There are several challenges and risks that come with the early separation and a few of these could include malnutrition, mental distress of the mother, and corrupted development for the child.

Boarding on the rollercoaster ride that is motherhood, my experience was because of genuine unwavering support from my employer. For women to fully participate in the decision-making cluster, we must desire to create a world where every birth mother is supported to heal and thrive for a society to truly flourish.